Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Many diminishing returns.

I'm getting nothing done. Time, which is a very precious thing, is wasting and I'm getting nothing done. Hamlet had nothing on me, but then he has the energy of a much younger man. Unless he's being played by David Tennant or John Sim, in which case he has the energy of an older but thinner man. Who has been in Dr Who.

Is John Sim a REAL John. Or merely an immersive, virtual-reality construct of a John, forever followed around by a glowing green diamond, like Gloomy Gus and his rain cloud in "Cheeky" comic.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

A mad man in a box

I think it's finally dawned on me. She isn't coming back. I lay in bed last night, in our bedroom, surrounded by all of her things, staring through the darkness until the room seemed light and every detail was visible. It was raining outside and the wind rattled the windows, all the trappings of pathetic fallacy. I was simultaneously hot and cold, my stomach knotted. I was finally, crucially sober. I closed my eyes. I opened my eyes. The same inky shapes blotted back into view. The coat on the back of the door never became a hovering phantom, the clothes bursting out of her wardrobe came no closer, arrested like a frozen tide.

I miss her so much. If there were ever candidates for a "Ghost" style romance, thumb-deep in potter's clay, it would be Kelly and I. We were so in love. We had so little time. She died so quickly.

But there are no ghosts. And, if there were, this East Belfast house, where she spent two of the worst months of her life, would be the last place she'd turn up. She'd hang about the Ormeau Road or Gulladuff. Or Camberwell, where we were happiest, eating a curry and drinking champagne on New Years Eve. Watching the fireworks over the Thames from our living room window, holding each other.

I don't know why I don't dream about her though. I dream tedious, vivid rubbish every night, but I can never dream about her. I just want to see her again.

I'm left behind. Like her turtle picture. Like the boxes of hats and scarves. As empty as her shoes.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

oh and my editor has just asked me to re-write a piece I've written. I was proud of it. That's usually a bad sign. It's the shit I just knock off that people like.

My brother has had good news. It looks as if he's going to be published. He's meeting a man in the Groucho on Thursday. I'm pleased for him.

(and bitter and jealous. but pleased.)

Anything to declare?

Honesty is own reward. It's an unusual expression isn't it? There's not really anything positive about it. At best the "reward" part would seem to come from a sense of self-satisfaction about not being a criminal, as if the only thing stopping people from ram-raiding and cat rape is a thin skin of smugness that could break at any moment, like water tension, sending you down into the depths of vice and venality.

And it's not true, either, there is no reward for honesty. Honesty is about giving stuff away; handing back the wallet, returning the heiresses' finger.

I decided to declare the writing I'm doing. Now that I'm actually being paid to write, it seemed dishonest to not declare it to the JSA. People begged me not to do it, pleaded with me. One of them, surprisingly, was the chap in the Jobs and Benefits office, who looked me as if I were mad when I first brought it up and, as the realisation dawned that I was serious, took on the grey pallor of a man who has suddenly got a lot of paper-work to do. It's a look I recognise.

So, we waded through the admin, it took over half an hour, and at the other end I was no longer a job-seeker but a self-employed. Now, I was nervous. I've had the promise of money for my writing but no actual money yet. And when I get it it wont be very much. So I need my dole if I want to eat and occasionally I do. But the JSA guy, who was now my best friend, assured me that it shouldn't make any difference, whatsoever. So I left with a modicum of self respect. It was official: I was a writer, a pro. Even the government would back me up on that!

And on Friday no cheque came. And on Saturday no cheque came. On Sunday, well obviously, no cheque came, but on Monday still no cheque came. My declaration of financial independence, or at least semi-detachment, had been a balls. I phoned them. The woman dealing with my case (I was a case!)was at lunch. She would ring me back. She did. She had been off. Somebody had put a load of stuff in her in tray while she had been off, on top of my new info. It was still there but as I had rang her she would deal with it now. Of course, if I hadn't rang her it would still be languishing in her over-stuffed in-tray and I would be pressing my nose up against the butcher's window like the stray dog I am. The cheque would be ready at 2 if I wanted to pick it up.

So, my pointless honesty had cost me a phone call but saved the government the price of a stamp.

Oh, and the cheque wasn't "ready". I still had to take a deli-style ticket and sit there for half an hour watching a plasma screen with my back to the staff (presumably so they don't feel they're in a bar-less zoo). I was the only one there who didn't smell of drink. Which is odd for me, but it was early.

When my name was called, because of the ingenious seating plan, I had no idea who called it. So I toured up and down the cubicles asking who had called me until one woman, who never made eye contact with me, constantly staring over my shoulder and occasionally rising out of her seat, as though I were about to be attacked from behind, handed my bi-weekly stipend having given my passport a cursory glance (though she didn't bother to tally it with my face).

So much for my new-found self-reliance and self-esteem. I then went for a long walk and trod in a dog-shit for the first time in my life, as normally my poo-dar is very good, but that, at least, was comical. Not to me obviously. But to the gaggle of schoolgirls who saw me do it it was a hoot.

Little man, what now?

Friday, 18 November 2011

Old people and the young people they hate

The service industry is rudimentary in Belfast, the sort of customer care package you might you might expect in a Trappist gift-shop; silent, other-worldly and focussed on less trivial matters than serving food. The staff at Chicken Cottage are more interested in my spiritual diet than serving me salty, leg-shaped batter. And, frankly, so am I.

I'm in the Connswater Shopping Centre and I'm hungry. I'm test driving some new contact lenses from Specsavers and I'm looking good in an "I've had a wash" sort of way. Though I AM sweating. Connswater always makes me sweat so I spend the first five minutes of every opticians appointment here defogging my glasses and trying look as if I haven't just escaped from a chain-gang. They must think I'm as phobic about eye-tests as other folk are about dentists and Norns about lettuce.

Maybe it's the people you meet here. A trip to the Connswater is like flicking through the pages of a medieval bestiary, or checking the guttering on Notre Dame. Face after face looms out from under the strip-lights, a panopoly of scrunge-tastic Reidian sports: gummy, drooping, off-kilter, top-loaded, some with bits off, some with bits added. It's like a channel five documentary entitled "When Faces Go Wrong".

Heaven help me, I flee to Burger King, a counter-intuitive move at best, but I WAS hungry. And there was nobody else about to see my secret shame. That's not quite true, the staff were there. But again, that's not quite true either. They were there but they really weren't. Schroedinger's staff. I saw a couple of backs. A big fat lad emerged from the fryers, gave me a startled look like a rumbled cat, and snuck back in again. I craned my head around the side of the fryer but I could not engage. So I left it.

I moved over to "The Streat". The pun's not really working there because it's not on a street but in a shopping centre and the puns not really working there because there's nothing particularly appetising about streets. Tarmac? Dog shit? Litter? I can get that at home.

I ordered a "French Connection" paninni ( brie, bacon, far too much onion marmalade and something that may once have been spring onion but was now clearly savoury pot-pourri) and a large latte. I waited while the girl diligently set about constructing it from its constituent parts as carefully as if she were making a bomb in the back of a moving vehicle.

The odd thing about The Streat is that it had a staff of four: the girl doing the stuff, another girl tinkering with the coffee machine, a man who bobbed in and out without touching the sides and a chap who stuck his head around the corner like a meerkat in a baseball cap. None of them seemed to be doing anything at all, until the "French Connection" was plated (trayed). Then the other girl snapped into action. "Anything else?" she said.

"Well there was supposed to be a large latte as well," I said.

She shot the drone a look and the other girl dutifully put down her knife and came over to start on my latte. The entire transaction took just under ten minutes. That's a whopping E.T.A. for a sandwich. But I expect I'd still be waiting for the Whopper.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

It's always the stupid little things. Today, as I was transcribing an interview into a word document, I wrote the word "team" and the word document helpfully suggest that I might want to insert the words "Team Spigot" into the text. "Team Spigot" were Kelly and I, named for an Ivor Cutler book. We were as much Team Spigot as we were "Muggins".

There's no more Team Spigot. I'll never get to use the "Smells like Team Spigot" joke again.

I hadn't thought about that in months.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Finally got around to filling in the Housing Benefits Form I've been putting off for two months. I doubt very much that I'll get it. I'm not the sort of person who gets things. There is a pull-away section that I need to send to my land-lord. A nice bit of indignity there. And, of course, if I don't get any benefit I'm basically saying "toss me out into the snow, please, I can no longer afford to live in your house. Which is, in fact, pretty close to being true. They are also asking me if I am running a business from the property which has forced me to face up to the fact that though I write constantly, and hobble around arts centres and the like attempting to make people like me, no body seems particularly keen on paying me at the moment. I'm assured that this will change but less assured of when.

Is it "a business"? Am I fooling myself? I've spent two days researching a Belfast film company for an interview that will probably take another day to condense, to write up and polish. Three days work with little hope of payment or even, christ, a thank you. And people think I'm doing well. He's everywhere, he's always talking, always writing away.

I have nothing else to do.

Friday, 11 November 2011

We help light your way

It's 4 months to the day since Kelly died. I'm on the phone to Airtricity who want to take her to court for an unpaid bill of £86. You really do have to sweat the details.

I'm on hold while they cancel her account and invent mine. An aspirational Norn voice claims "we power sport, we power hospitals, we power transport, we help light your way."

Predictably they have nothing in place to deal with the death of a customer. Does nobody die any more? It is baffling how nobody can deal with the death of their customers. Do old people, at risk in the community, no longer use any services?

Miss you so much, darlin. You used to say that we were both shit at doing our admin. I'm proudly carrying on that tradition.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

They're the pirates but I'm all at sea!

Bristol Airport is fraught with tiny miseries. It's busier than Belfast. It's filled with ugly middle-aged couples drinking Guinness at 9 in the morning. The only young people here are the uniformly Polish staff who seem to be in a constant state of retraining at their stations meaning everything takes twice as long. My bus journey from the city centre took less time than it did to queue for my boarding pass. There were two other people in the queue.

The customs were pointlessly intrusive. One poor old duffer, frisked in his socks behind me, was asked his age! When did a head of white hair become a terror risk? Did they suspect he was illegally transporting the hair? Or that his frail dotage might be catching and could be used, in the right hands, to overcome the pilot? The date of his birth is freely available on his passport, which he must have shown at least twice to reach this point and, besides, what the fuck business is it of any ones in customs?

I'm sat drinking a pint of Amstell (yeah yeah yeah) in Bar Zero 9 listening to a jazz-hip hop version of "Imagine" hating random strangers for their Bristol accents:

"Would anyone loike a coffee?" "Oi wuz just thinking tha-a-at!"

Really. What is the point? It's not as if the Bristol accent is markedly different from my own. Oh but it fucking is! I don't sound like a cartoon pirate chewing a piece of straw!

Above my head the tannoy bombards me with increasingly desperate messages about missing passengers. From the sound of it they are missing presumed dead. I move away from the tannoy.

No sooner do I move than the announcements stop and a loose child appears from nowhere, running up and down screaming. He is eventually removed by a man who must be his step-father as he has certainly never had sex. The child is replaced in my immediate vicinity by a woman shouting breathlessly into her phone in her black beard voice. She finishes every sentence with the words "me hearties". No she doesn't.

The bar staff here at Bar Zero 9 all have the words "Gurt Lush" written on their backs. Given they're uniformly (hah) Polish it must be fucking mystifying.

I think I'm in a bad mood. Kindly ignore the preceding crabbiness.

sweat sweat sweat

They nicked my deodorant from me! I walked to the airport to travel to Bristol to see pals Mike and Row and Doug, Gwen and Eirlys who were travelling up from Basingstoke. It was a nice day, crisp and not raining and the airport is only a mile and a half away. So I took a stroll. I was ridiculously early. Having been burned on a missed flight some years ago I am now super cautious. But I kept up a speedy pace and worse a fancy woollen jacket and by the time I got to George Best Airport I was sweating buttocks. Stinky arses were tumbling out of my pores.

There is no way of transporting deodorants between countries. They are the most quarantined matter in the world. It makes you wonder how they appear in the shops because they wont have been made in Britain. Nothing is made in Britain. I assume then that they are being smuggled between territories in diplomatic bags. "Ah, ambassador, with this "Sure Man Invisible Ice" you are really spoiling us!"

What are they doing with this mountain of armpit sweetener? Where does it go? I don't intend to find out.

I suppose a Lynx bullet would work. But that's never going to happen. Taking the Lynx bullet is the desperate act of a desperate man and social suicide. "He was a loner, kept himself to himself - because he stank of Lynx Java. He had nowhere left to go - he turned the deodorant on himself!"

I'm in an airport cafe eating a cream cheese and bacon bagel because, hey I'm on holiday*, I can let the diet slide. I'm opposite a glamour girl. A dolly bird. She is about ten feet tall and wearing a leopard-skin print mini-skirt. Her legs are longer than I am. Her breasts look as if they should be borne by slaves. Her hair is black, sleek and volumised. Her nose is long and her eyes are large and slightly protuberant. She looks like a minor Kardashian. She is more glamorous at eight o clock in the morning than I have ever looked in my life, her hair perfect, make-up just so.

I was looking pretty good before my sweaty stroll but I arrive at the airport ruddy of cheek, floppy of quiff and damp of collar, unable to see through the visor of condensation on my glasses. She looks like she's just stepped out of a salon. I look like I've just stepped out of a saloon, wearing the contents of the spittoon.

I'm always impressed by women who look like they're going clubbing at 8 o clock in the morning and sustain that look all day. And when they do go out clubbing they look even better! (usually by wearing less clothing)

She walks past me. She's like a pair of step-ladders in denier tights. The slip-stream, the wash, of her perfume lingers for a full ten minutes. I sort of want to ask her about her life. I don't. I think I would be appalled by her answers.

Also, as we came into the airport, me walking some ten paces behind her, somebody wolf-whistled. She turned to see a red faced, white haired man in an elbow patched jacket, sweating profusely behind her.There was no love-light shining in her eyes.

*from what John? From what?

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

A Minor Tour

I'm on a farm in the middle of the Irish countryside, possibly in Clonfeacle,* which may be the most unpleasant name for a town I have ever heard. I am wearing waterproofs supplied by Chris and wellies supplied by a farmer's wife. They are slightly too large and the ground is soft from recent flooding, so every step is a tug of war between myself and the earth. At the moment I am winning but I don't fancy my chances against the elements. As soon as I put pen to paper the page is spotted with rain. It looks like a love-letter, never sent.

Chris has taken a photo of me in my all-terrain clobber, of course, as it is hilarious. And I suppose it is hilarious. I can't remember the last time I had a pair of wellies on but I suspect it may have been on a school trip to...actually, I don't know if I even had wellies as a child. I can vividly remember having some "bumper-boots" (Edward threw one into the English Channel. I had to walk home with one shoe from the sea-side)sandals, (I knew they were wrong even then) some crepe-soled pointy black things with a tricolor on them (I'd probably still wear them)some pointy grey suede slip-ons (which I probably wouldn't) and some naff white trainers (a proto-pub shoe). I even remember a money-box in the shape of a blue and white football boot, coincidentally the colours of Brighton and Hove Albion, my alleged team. But I don't ever remember owning any wellies. I know they were about because I've seen photographic evidence of my brother, Barry, wearing them. He is also wearing a plastic policeman's helmet in the same picture and maybe there was a comparative rareness between the two.

I'm here to hang about like a spare prick while Chris films a wind-turbine, some cows and a farmer. I went out last night and got drunk at the Century T.V. end of month booze-a-thon. As a consequence I have mad hair, pissy eyes and a frazzled demenour. I have also eaten a sausage and egg farl in a speeding car. I feel like I'm in the Sweeney. It's a grey day, there is little of interest going on in the sky as we try to film it. By the time we make it into the cow-shed however the rain is deafening on the plastic roof. The cows are unperturbed, ruminating. I find cows unnerving. They're too big and patient and docile, with steam constantly billowing from their nostrils. They must be furnaces inside. They stare at you, they follow you, but if you stare back they look away, lowering their heads. What do they think we are? The myth of the Minotaur starts to look very attractive. A man with the head of a bull would be a very handsome man indeed.

I'm now watching a farmer walking up and down in front of his cows like a general in front of his troops. Indeed he has pinned medals on some of them, right behind the ears.

On to the milking sheds! Again the cows are freaking me out. We are filming from a high gangway and the cows are lead into the milking shed by a tattooed giant with a broken nose and an apron. One cow spots us and stares us down. We both know that shower attachments are being clamped to her nipples, but she never breaks eye contact. In the back-ground Bobby Pickett's "The Monster Mash" is playing over the crackling tannoy system. It is genuinely odd. Sur-ruralism.

There's a toilet here with a picture of a toilet on the door. The word toilet is written on it too. I've never seen that before.

There is a fridge containing a box of "Combiclav: lactating cow, intra mammary suspension". If that wasn't disturbing enough it is stamped "includes four free leg bands".

*we are actually in a place called Bumburb, I think. I shit you not.